Destination or Journey?

That Starship Operators post produced some interesting discussion. The consensus seems to be that said anime sacrificed character depth and development at the Altar of Conclusiveness. (I’ll have to be patient and rely on the goodwill of Amazon.co.uk and MVM Films to find out for myself.) This sacrifice seems to be an acceptable trade-off to me, if the staff are confronted with a wealth of source material and a lack of actual wealth, but OGT disagrees.

Doubtless this is partly a matter of taste. I’ve noticed that the fear of non-endings is one of the main reasons I shy away from adaptions (is this a good moment to mention that the Tytania novel series is unfinished?), though I can understand the sound commercial thinking behind adapting a popular property before the original concludes and passes from the memory of the fickle mob. (Not so much of an issue in Tytania‘s case: the most recent novel was published in ’91.) This may even be one of the reasons for my suspicion of the trumpeted interpenetration of anime, manga and games.

I probably should mention the supposed teleological bias of the Western tradition – or should I say ‘The Western Tradition’? – with things like the Bible kicking around, as well as more local oddities (why, Whig Historiography, I didn’t see you lurking in the corner over there), it’s easy to see why a story without an ending might seem a story without a point. This, however, is a rather troubled paragraph, since I’ve no way to step outside my education, compare traditions and decide if said bias really exists.

Whatever the cause, I find I’m convinced that storytelling’s a matter of preparation and resolution; ‘getting there’ might be diverting, but there ought to be a ‘there’ to get to and I’m not happy if I’m asked to supply the ‘there’ myself. (Incidentally, there’s surely a discernible difference between legitimate loose ends and ‘we can haz moar money nao?’ endings.) So I think it’s safe to say I’m a destination person, a fully paid-up member of the Cult of the Ending. Maybe I just need to grow a bit older?

[True, you can repeatedly refuse to resolve your story: the Tristram Shandy Gambit. That, however, will only going to make me happy if its for artistic rather than commercial reasons (a tired, yet trustworthy, distinction). It is an artistic matter in Tristram Shandy's case, since not having a point is the point, but I've yet to watch an anime with that much wit or that powerful an excuse (poking fun at novels with a novel was much cleverer in the 1760s than it is now).]

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11 responses to “Destination or Journey?

  1. I want to cry. My ship has sank in the worst possible way.

  2. Just to throw a wrench (or try) out there:

    The means of defining destination and journey is not so clear that we can have this discussion without stepping into defining them.

    The means itself sometimes is an end, and sometimes the end of a story is just a way to continue on in a journey.

    I think this is not really a matter of Western Tradition. It’s a perception gap. A point to this debate that I’ve seen is that some inconclusive stories seems to be inconclusive to some people yet are rather conclusive to others, partly because what perceives as end differs between people.

  3. @ Michael: What happened to only on-screen evidence being canon?

    @ omo: Well, I’m glad to hear it might not be the WT. Definitions aren’t really my game, since I find they usually require too much subtlety and effort for too little reward, but I think I see what you mean about the journey potentially being a destination all of its own.

    I think I was talking about a more functional and easily-detected concept of an ending: the last episode of the anime, which gives you grounds to reasonably expect that there won’t be a continuation. (Sequels with new stories are another matter.) s-CRY-ed ends on a note of continuity and movement, but it is recognisably an ending and not an inter-season intermission.

  4. omo is right on. I’d add to that two things: The first is that a good story has a series of lessons being taught. You don’t need a conclusive ending to feel like you’ve learned something, and the ending itself isn’t always the point.

    However, the second point is that endings that are inconclusive because of a plot twist at the end just cause one to question the validity of the lessons learned. There’s nothing worse than watching a series where everyone struggles to overcome a person or obstacle, only to see a potential hint at the end that they didn’t really accomplish anything. You end up feeling used, not enlightened.

  5. Err, well, then we don’t actually disagree! Although I am talking about eighty zillion different things all at once in that single comment.

    I don’t necessarily like or welcome non-endings myself, and I can’t remember much of anything off the top of my head that I’ve seen that I’ve also highly liked that had a non-ending due to running out of material.

    The “getting there”, for me, is more important than the “destination”, yes, because I don’t really want to watch 12 episodes of boredom to get to the incredible, life-altering ending, because, if I’m bored for the first 12, why should the 13th change my life drastically? I point out when I watched Russian Ark for whatever Godforsaken reason possessed me to watch that; after an hour and a half of obsessive clock-watching and trying not to fall asleep, I hit upon the ending of the single-take film, which was a pretty nice statement on something involving Russia and beauty (exact wording escapes me, this was at least three years ago) that tied the film together, but was a ten-word line, no matter how poetic in the context of the film, worth an hour and a half of sheer boredom? I’m of the opinion “no”.

    In the case of Starship Operators, it’s mostly because I can’t really get excited about action and tension if I don’t care about the people involved in action and tension. It’s like a bad sitcom laugh track, except instead of laughter telling me that someone made a joke and that I should be amused, it’s tense music trying very hard to say “be tense! be tense!” and not working very well at it.

    SIMPLE ANSWER: I value the “getting there” just as much as the ending, but it’s weighted, since I’m fairly unlikely to slog though something that doesn’t engage me, since past experience has taught me that this works out horribly. What engages me, however, still mystifies and eludes me, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with characters and empathy or something.

    This all probably will make me a horrible librarian, though. Except for the fact that I have databases in my head that won’t go away.

  6. You know, this is a tough topic, and, after reading your post, I kept getting distracted in class today trying to figure out my stance on it. That’s okay, though, as Plato is getting repetitive, and adolescent literature didn’t require much active work tonight. I think I’ve come to a…well, not so much a conclusion, as, me being the way I am, I’ll probably change my mind on this matter seven and a half million times in as many nanoseconds, but I’ve at least reached a consensus with myself, if that makes sense (see, I have a very inconclusive life…guess where I stand on this issue?).

    I look at it like this: from a structural standpoint, all endings are conclusive. That is, when a story ends, it ends, regardless of whether the ending is open-ended or closed-ended. For example, though the ending of the Elfen Lied anime leaves many questions unanswered, and blatantly so, said ending is conclusive insofar as the story of the Elfen Lied anime is for all practical purposes over unless another season is made. On that note, I tend to think of the stories of manga, anime, light novels, and games within a given franchise as separate narratives entirely, given the differences in form; thus, it doesn’t matter to me that the Elfen Lied manga reaches much farther than the anime along a similar, but by necessity incongruous, plot-line, as the anime story is still over as of the end of its last episode, and thus the physical ending is conclusive.

    Now, to be more relevant, looking at things like this means endings lacking in resolution don’t much bother me. In fact, irresolute endings just fuel my critical fire: Why didn’t the ending wrap things up neatly? What does that say about the preceding events, and what impact does it have on overarching themes? If an ending is, like you mentioned, one of those (annoying, I’ll admit) “we can haz moar money nao?” affairs, what does that say about the commercialization of our art of choice, especially considering the willingness of some fans to devour such endings and move on to subsequent seasons? I don’t think a destination can be any more or less a destination, no matter what it looks like; conclusion is inevitable. If the journey is in some way lacking, though, then I’ve got problems — I guess that puts me somewhere in the vicinity of OGT.

  7. I can easily twist this into a post in the defense of End of Evangelion, for which I thank you. I happen to enjoy shows that

  8. Strangely, this topic reminds me of “Resisting Novels: Ideology & Fiction” by Lennard Davis. Despite being centered on novels, I found many of Lennard’s arguments to be valid across a broad stroke of fiction in various mediums.

    Particularly, your mention of a teleological bias and of the need for resolution is what caught my eye. Early on in the book, Lennard argues that completing a novel usually provides a false sense of growth and change in the reader themselves. The habit is also one that is indoctrinated through repetition – we complete one novel only to move onto the next.

    He argued that novels, like psychological defense mechanisms that have outlived their purpose, often serve as a way for readers to resist change by simulating it. I think this offers a possible reason as to why many people feel upset and uncomfortable (or, in Pontifus’ case, indignant) when any tale fails to reach a conclusion – they are seeking to satisfy some external need which is then thwarted within the construct of the story.

    But, to carry the metaphor, if I had to sacrifice my goat at a particular altar I’d do it at the Cult of the Ending. It’s a fine balance, as OGT states – the ‘journey’ and ‘destination’ have to balance themselves in some way so that the one ultimately does not negate the other.

  9. @Almost A Hero

    Indignant? I don’t think I am. Or leastwise I didn’t mean to come across as such. In fact, I specifically said I don’t care whether an ending is particularly resolute or not. Insofar as a story is a limited construct, though, it has a terminus, a physical end, or at least that’s the way I see it.

  10. I was going with your “fuel my critical fire” comment, Pontifus. Call it misinterpretation on my part, then.

  11. Personally, I think that it is possible to have conclusion without having closure. You can conclude the story you’ve begun without necessarily closing off any chance of further extension. I think that a lot of anime studios tend to shy away from any form of closure, for purely monetary reasons – most shows have a significant lead-in and so they’ve usually planned out things well in advance, and if the show turns out to meet or exceed expectations then it is a shoe-in for continuation.

    The trap that they all seem to fall into, though, is that by shying away from closure they also end up avoiding conclusion as well, so you get stuff that simply stops. Personally the journey is important for me, but if the destination turns out not to have been worth sitting through the journey for, then that ends up tainting the whole production. After all, we tend to remember the beginning and the end of things, not the stuff in the middle.

    What they should ideally be aiming for is to set up a story arc which will conclude at the end of the season, giving that sense of achievement, but without necessarily finalising the setting and characters.

    Adapting unfinished material is a good part of the problem too, I think. So often they either stop abruptly as they run out of material or their timeslot ends, or they do something which is almost worse – they rush together a terrible ending and ruin the show. A good example there is Claymore. That terrible anime ending was just unnecessary and it had the knock-on effect of ruining any chance of seeing continuation of that story eventually.

    I guess in the end I’d have to say that I’m a journey person rather than a destination person when it comes to anime, but only because the destination is so often disappointing.

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